Call this clichéd, or flabby - but Tom Hardy’s year 2015 has been kind of legendary. Taking on the roles of both Reggie and Ronnie Kray, the notorious gangsters of London’s 1950/60s East End; Hardy tackles the material with a precious charisma rarely witnessed in contemporary crime thrillers. Armed with bronze knuckle-dusters, the actor is forcefully marking his cinematic territory.
Shot through the lens of Mike Leigh’s acclaimed cinematographer Dick Pope, Legend summons a relentless world of slick nostalgia - you not only get the breathtaking cars, but the jazzy club strips and rooms oozing cigarette smoke; Helgeland’s visual prowess exceeds expectation here tenfold. Given a bold $25 million budget, the filmmaker lines his piece with an interesting variety of supporting actors - doing their best to squirm in the cockney moonlight, this includes Emily Browning; David Thewlis; Christopher Ecclestone and Paul Bettany. Whatever this talent provides however, theres no escaping the Hardy bulldozer at centre stage - his performance elevates Legend in supreme and unforgettable style.
Based on John Pearson’s biography The Profession of Violence, this film chronicles the gritty rise of the cantankerous Kray twins as they bite into the criminal underbelly of London and attempt to build “the Las Vegas of Europe”. If like me, you enter the screening with no idea about their villainous history, then particular narrative events are likely to tamper with your emotions - does Helgeland employ a reliable narrator? This Sam Mendes influence becomes something of a highlight.
Fans of American composer Carter Burwell will appreciate his essence of swagger that penetrates the world of the Krays, implementing bass guitar and throbbing drums that emulate the bands of the era - surely a YouTubist will excavate clips and create a walking montage to these tunes? The Mad Max actor treats Reggie and Ronnie as two completely separate beasts here, the latter a bulky paranoid schizophrenic and the former a more calculated; jack-the-lad approach. If you’ve ever pined to experience Hardy smashing a champagne bottle over his own head, then you’ve undoubtedly come to the right place - these siblings gradually loosen in terms of brotherhood; which grows to be one of Legend’s more impressive themes.
As a gangster film, Legend is pretty tame; questions could be raised over the directing capabilities of this fantastic screenwriter, his female lead was a meek endurance test for me personally. Browning has proven in the past her acting chops (A Series of Unfortunate Events and Sucker Punch) but she doesn’t quite make an impression in this lethal world - her narration is possibly the only saving grace. As Ronnie shrieks “I came for a proper shoot-out!” in the pub scene between the two main rival gangs, Helgeland stretches his writing muscles to the maximum - captured expertly in a segment of manic fisticuffs, Hardy’s determined portrayal feels more raw and passionate than ever.
Legend’s heartrending climax is arguably the most shocking piece of cinema I’ve witnessed this year; Reggie’s feral moment of knife wielding creates a tense silence in the room that doesn’t necessarily attach itself to mainstream affairs like this. As he sits anticipating his arrest in the satisfaction of his own company, its difficult to avoid comparisons of Hardy’s horrifyingly iconic Charles Bronson role - but thankfully Helgeland doesn’t introduce the body paint for this scenario.
Go see it.
Legend is now showing at FACT. Click here to book tickets.